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Into Great Silence

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Original title
Die Große Stille (Die Grosse Stille)
Running time
164 min.
Germany Germany
Philip Gröning
Michael Busch, Philip Gröning
Philip Gröning
Co-production Germany / France / Switzerland
Synopsis / Plot
Nestled in the French Alps, the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse near Grenoble is considered to be one of the most ascetic in the world. In 1987, filmmaker Philip Groening asked for permission to film daily life in this isolated retreat. The monks told him it was too soon - perhaps in ten or thirteen years. Thirteen years later, Groening received a call from the Grande Chartreuse: they were ready.

Mirroring the spare piety of its subject, this transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one - it has no score, no interviews, no voice-over and no archival footage. In following the daily rituals of these Carthusian monks, what remains is elemental: time, space, light.

Tucked in the magnificent lower ranges near the Dauphiné Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is the head monastery of the Carthusian order, founded in 1084 by St. Bruno. While a community in one sense, Carthusian monks live in much greater solitude than other orders. Most of their time is spent in "cells" (akin to small houses), where they pray, take meals, work and sleep. Typically they leave these private spaces only three times daily, for offices and communal mass: the Night Office, the morning Eucharist and Vespers. For nearly six months, Groening lived the monastic life and took part in their rituals.

A film of tranquility, stillness and contemplation, Into Great Silence is marked by moments of visual splendor and almost tactile sound: the rumpled roar of the wood stove; scissors crisply crunching through heavy cloth; the soothing, murmured rhythms of the liturgy. At a time in which spiritual practice is a radically variegated pursuit, these privileged observations of one of its purest forms are a balm for our bustling days.
2006: Sundance: Special Jury Prize (World Cinema - Documentary)
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